Art organizations take steps for inclusivity and diversity
Currently theaters and museums are closed due to health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped them from creating plans of action to open dialogues about racial oppression. Theaters are pledging to do more than provide links to informational resources, some are taking action.
Daniel C. Levine, the artistic director at ACT of Connecticut, said, “We feel that it is our responsibility as an arts organization (and ally) to make certain that we stand in solidarity with our black colleagues, friends, neighbors, and fellow artists.”
Levine also recognized that solidarity requires action. “The Black Lives Matter movement has shined a light on how we are actually not doing enough; Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “We commit to an ongoing dedication to hiring black artists and we pledge to do the work needed to be inclusive, including amplifying black voices, supporting black stories and engaging black talent.”
The theater is taking action by participating in the virtual Ridgefield Allies rally that was held on June 7 and is donating 10 percent of its ticket sales from its upcoming virtual gala to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Levine also said ACT is actively seeking black students from Fairfield County and the surrounding area to participate in ACT’s Summer Conservatory. “We invite the next generation of black actors, singers and music directors in our community, to participate in our ‘virtual lessons program,’” Levine added.
Mark Lamos, the artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse, said the theater will continue to stage shows by black playwrights. He also pointed out that the Playhouse has a ticket subsidy program for students.
“We will be staging shows by black authors, as we have done for many seasons. We will continue our policy of casting actors non-traditionally and continue to give voice to directors, choreographers and designers of color, some of whom we had already announced for the season which has had to be postponed due to COVID,” Lamos said. “Plans are in place for workshops in-house and with trustees and the theater community at large, as well as artists of color who are alums as well as those who will be joining us in 2021.”
Daniel Fitzmaurice, the executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, said the organization has published a statement against racism and police brutality and that the council’s independent publication “Arts Paper” will be tracking and following up with arts groups to hold them accountable to the promises they made. Fitzmaurice also said that the council will be organizing and financially supporting Undoing Racism training for area arts groups. The organization will also be providing performers of color with stipends for Make Music New Haven and the group intends to hold roundtable conversations with movement leaders, artists and creative institutions.
“We believe that the arts are a fundamental human right and, therefore, must actively fight against racism. Creativity is powerful and always central to activism — from protest songs and chants to posters and graphics. That’s why folks notice when its arts institutions are silent about movements that would help our community, like Black Lives Matter,” he said.
Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven pledged to have every staff and board member complete Undoing Racism training. In a joint statement from the theater’s artistic director, Jacob G. Padron, and managing director Kit Ingui said, “At Long Wharf Theatre, we’ve often been complicit in upholding oppressive systems by communicating a powerful vision but remaining inactive when called to action. Telling stories of the oppressed on our stages does not exempt us from living anti-oppression principles off of it.”
Padron and Ingui said the Long Wharf will also continue to work with artEquity, an organization that provides cultural inclusivity training services and use its resources to hold virtual Town Halls about social justice.
“We will build a body of work for the new American theatre repertoire that vigorously includes the voices of black artists and artists of color,” the directors pledged.
At the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, executive director Cybele Maylone said the museum has canceled all of its programming for the near future so the staff can focus on how the museum can do more.
“The urgency for training around equity, diversity and inclusion for our staff, myself included, and our board is evident, and plans are underway for the convening of a workshop, the first of many, to understand how the Museum is complicit in institutional racism and how we can use our platform to fight inequality,” she said.
Maylone added that the museum is in the planning stages of holding a digital fundraiser “to contribute financially to a partner organization supporting artists of color.”
“We look forward to reimagining and redesigning a better way to protect the rights of people of color together not just today, this week or this year, but for decades to come,” she said.